The best books about Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst

Charles B. Strozier Author Of Lincoln's Quest for Union
By Charles B. Strozier

Who am I?

I got my first job as a professor of history in 1972 in Springfield, Illinois, at a new university there. What can you do in Springfield except work on Lincoln? The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Lincoln draws you in. His lively mind and always well-written letters, along with his brilliant and memorable speeches, are endlessly fascinating. He also had genuine integrity as a human being and as a leader in our greatest crisis as a country. It is hard not to be inspired by Abraham Lincoln.

I wrote...

Lincoln's Quest for Union

By Charles B. Strozier,

Book cover of Lincoln's Quest for Union

What is my book about?

Lincoln’s Quest for Union is the first, and remains the only, serious psychoanalytic account of Lincoln’s inner life—from his childhood in Kentucky and Indiana, through his youth and adulthood in Illinois, his years of struggle finding himself in friendship and marriage, through his ascent to the presidency when he guided the nation and articulated for the country the meaning of the Civil War. 

“Surpassingly eloquent.”  The New York Times

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The books I picked & why


By David Herbert Donald,

Book cover of Lincoln

Why did I love this book?

Donald’s one-volume biography of Lincoln remains the standard in the field. I knew David Donald and found him always generous. From his perch at Harvard, Donald dominated the Lincoln field for many decades. His biography of Lincoln stands head and shoulders above a host of more recent studies. In fact, it surprises me people keep writing biographies of Lincoln that go over the same ground repeatedly. Donald brings Lincoln alive with the authority that comes from a lifetime of reflection and writing on the Civil War and our greatest president.

By David Herbert Donald,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lincoln as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A masterful work by Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald, Lincoln is a stunning portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency.

Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln’s gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever-expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond biography, illuminating the gradual development of Lincoln’s character, chronicling his tremendous capacity for evolution and growth, thus illustrating what made it possible for a man so inexperienced and so unprepared for the presidency to become a great moral leader. In the most troubled of times,…

Book cover of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Why did I love this book?

Jim McPherson’s one-volume book about the Civil War is a wonderful read. He provides good context for the background of the war beginning in the 1840s and up through the political crises of the 1850s. He then masterfully tells the story of the war and its unfolding. The book is not specifically about Lincoln, but there is a lot about his leadership. David Donald said years ago that if everything remained the same but you switched Lincoln and Jefferson Davis (the President of the Confederate States of America) the South would have won the war.

By James M. McPherson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Battle Cry of Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now featuring a new Afterword by the author, this handy paperback edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom is without question the definitive one-volume history of the Civil War.
James McPherson's fast-paced narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War including the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. From there it moves into…

Book cover of Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln

Why did I love this book?

William Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner and knew and worked with him from the early 1840s until 1861 when Lincoln left for Washington. After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Herndon tirelessly interviewed many of Lincoln’s family and neighbors from his childhood and youth. As I noted many years ago, Herndon’s project was the first oral history in American literature. His vast collection was long disdained by scholars. I used the records extensively myself and in the 1980s and 1990s those in the Lincoln field realized the letters and interviews were a priceless source. Doug Wilson and his colleagues did an excellent job in editing the Herndon material that is both invaluable for understanding Lincoln and providing a social history of the frontier in the early part of the 19th century.

By Douglas L. Wilson, Rodney O. Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Herndon's Informants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award

Women to whom Lincoln proposed marriage, political allies and adversaries, judges and fellow attorneys, longtime comrades, erstwhile friends--all speak out here in words first gathered by William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, between 1865 and 1890. Historian David Herbert Donald has called Herndon's materials "the basic source for Abraham Lincoln's early years."

Now available in paperback, Herndon's Informants collects and annotates more than 600 letters and interviews providing information about Abraham Lincoln's prepolitical and prelegal careers. Some of the people Herndon questioned were illiterate. Others could read but barely write. The editors'…

Book cover of Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850's

Why did I love this book?

Nothing equals this short introduction to Lincoln’s experience in the 1850s. One gains here an understanding of what Springfield on the urban frontier of America was all about, its muddy streets and yet remarkable collection of politicians like Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. It was truly an Athens on the prairie. Fehrenbacher also masterfully traces the role of circuit riding in Lincoln’s law career throughout the decade, as well as his keen sense of the nation’s crisis over slavery, especially after 1854. The book is very readable and accessible.

By Don E. Fehrenbacher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prelude to Greatness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

" . . . [The] paperback edition of Professor Fehrenbacher's study, first published in 1962, of Lincoln in the 1850s is a welcome reminder of what can be achieved by a fresh and searching investigation of often-asked questions. . . . The book is lucidly and soberly written, and full of carefully considered argument. It is one more major contribution to the work of putting the slavery issue back where it has always belonged--at the very centre--of any discussion of the origins of the Civil War."--Journal of American Studies

"This is a brilliant book. With thorough research . . .…

Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters

By Justin G. Turner, Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln

Book cover of Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters

Why did I love this book?

Mary Todd Lincoln has been seriously misunderstood by most observers (including her most recent biographer). She was in fact a smart, lively, well-educated woman whom Lincoln loved and to whom he was emotionally drawn. Her troubled personality led to some distance between her and her husband in the 1850s, and her post-assassination despair grew in large part from the unrelenting criticism she endured. This definitive collection of her letters, interspersed with excellent biographical information, contextualizes the documents in a highly readable volume. Mary Todd Lincoln deserves our close and sympathetic attention.

By Justin G. Turner, Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mary Todd Lincoln as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The personal correspondences of Mary Todd Lincoln create an intimate portrait of her life and marriage to Lincoln as well as her struggles after his death

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Abraham Lincoln, psychoanalysis, and the American Civil War?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Abraham Lincoln, psychoanalysis, and the American Civil War.

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